World-famous rope swings, fishermen perched on stilts, and the warm-water swells of the Indian Ocean, the southern province of Sri Lanka is a sensory overload - the kind that excites and ignites. And the allure doesn't stop there. Emerald forested hills hide rock temples and sacred sites, while the seafront oozes cultural fare with magnificent European architecture and South Asian traditions open for exploration.
The fabled Virgin White tea and the world's highest-quality cinnamon are found in the south, as well as the "world's most beautiful sunset rock." The first light of the day belongs to the elephants marching across the forest, while the leopards take charge of the night - when their predatory prowess is at its peak. Visiting a sea turtle hatchery is also a great way to experience the animal kingdom. You'll learn about the ways of these amazing creatures and you might even get chance to release some turtles into the sea.
The golden hour (early-mid morning when the sun is still rising, or shortly before sunset) is the perfect time to swing into the air on the famous palm rope swing. Surfing in the morning is also a great thing to do as the atmosphere is a bit calmer. The lazy afternoon is meant for getting a tan or just relaxing at the shore with toes in the sand and fresh coconut in hand. Cap off the night with a decent sundowner and some nightlife fun. The beaches here are lined with hipster cafes and bars offering eclectic night scene.
From ramshackle beach cafes to fine restaurants, to an extensive list of accommodation types and activities to choose from - the south of Sri Lanka has it all.
Some of the highlights of Southern Sri Lanka:
This idyllic sweep of golden sand is protected by coral reefs, with the beachline framed by swaying coconut trees and a wooden headland with tiny coves lying on the west. In this coastal town you can find the most photographed beach in Sri Lanka, the perfectly 'Instagrammable' palm tree rope swing, a beautiful sunset rock, and a Buddhist shrine within jungle.
The south coast town of Mirissa
Bask in the golden sunset, stand on the Parrot rock, or enjoy amazing views from a coconut farm resting on a hilltop. Mirissa is also the best destination for whale and dolphin watching tours. Get upclose to the world's biggest animals during the whale watching season from November to April.
Wedged along one of the biggest bays on the southern coastline of Sri Lanka, Weligama is famous for two things: surfing and stilt fishing. Weligama's legendary curls await surfers for much of the year, luring everyone wishing to ride on the warm-water swells of the azure Indian Ocean. If you need a break from surf, you could lend a hand to one of the local stilt fishermen in the village. Stilt fishing requires skill and balance and offer the most immersive way to experience the culture of Weligama. Sit on the vertical pole embedded into the seabed in shallow water then cast your rod. Feel the thrill as you get that first bite, perhaps, from a mackerel or spotted herring.
Bundala National Park
Bundala National Park is a wonderland for colourful birds, including the diminutive little bee-eaters and the open-billed stalks. This wetland sanctuary is also home to civets, giant squirrels, turtles, crocodiles and elephants. During winter, it shelters a great number of flamingo - up to 2000 have been spotted here at one time.
Yala National Park
See the animal kingdom in full glory at Yala, Sri Lanka's premier national park and one of Asia's finest sanctuaries for mammals. It is the second largest National Park in the tropical country and the most visited nature site because of the high density of leopards - its top draw. These menacing predators (Panthera Pardus Kotiya) prowl like lords of the jungle during the day, usually from January to July, offering visitors exciting photographic opportunities at a close range. Yala National Park is also home to painted storks, crocodiles, peacocks, monkeys, water buffalo, wild boar, spotted deer, sambar and golden jackal.
The beach town of Hiriketiya
Soak up the sun in this small horseshoe-shaped beach tucked away from the crowds. Surrounded by groves of coconut palms and sea grapes, this town lures you into its unique tropical charm with roti stands, samosa outlets and lots of ways to enjoy the azure waters.
The UNESCO Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications
Galle Fort is one of the greatest examples of a fortified city magnifying a rich blend of European architectural styles and South Asian traditions. It is located in the Bay of Galle on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka and was built by the Portuguese in 1588. It was fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century, turning it into one of the most important archeological, architectural and historic monuments of all time.
The lazy fishing town of Tangalle
Discover the stunning Mulkirigala rock temple, visit the Dondra Point, and explore the tranquil bays of Goyambooka, Medaketiya, Pallikkudawa and Medilla. Tangalle is also the home of Rekawa Turtle Sanctuary, one of the best places in the world to see marine turtles.
Handunugoda Tea Estate
Sitting on the hills of Koggala, this tea plantation offers tours and opportunities to sample over 25 varieties of tea. The plantation is owned by Herman Gunaratne, one of the main figures in Sri Lanka’s tea industry.
When to visit
The best time to visit the southern province is from December until March or April when there is least rain. The weather is decent beginning mid July up to the end of September with chances of rain showers in the afternoon or evening.
Prices are a bit lower in the rainy months of May, October and November. Between July and August, the weather tends to slightly improve but all throughout the monsoon season, you can still enjoy swimming as Sri Lanka's waters are protected from sharp waves, thanks to its incredible coral reef.